Despite Its Claims, MetroPCS Plans Create New Digital Divide

Contact Info: 

Jenn Ettinger, 202-265-1490 x 35

WASHINGTON – On Monday, MetroPCS, the nation's fifth-largest wireless provider, responded to charges by public interest groups that its new service plans block and discriminate against Internet content, applications and websites.

MetroPCS has been advertising unlimited talk, text, “Web browsing” and YouTube at a base price of $40 per month -- with all other uses only available on higher tiers at a higher cost. These plans stifle competition from popular services like Netflix and restrict consumer choice.

“MetroPCS demands that its subscribers make a choice between a restricted Internet experience or paying extra fees to access websites, content and applications," said Free Press Policy Counsel M. Chris Riley. "But those should not be the only options. The company could just as easily have chosen to offer low-cost service through the use of other non-discriminatory network management techiques. Instead, it's creating a new digital divide by building a walled garden around its users, and now it’s taking its fight to discriminate online to the FCC and the courts."

On January 11, Free Press, the Center for Media Justice, Media Access Project, New America Foundation Open Technology Institute and Presente.org asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate MetroPCS. In a letter sent yesterday to the FCC, MetroPCS – which joined Verizon in suing the FCC to vacate its December open Internet rules -- chose neither to acknowledge the violations nor to provide greater details on its network blocking practices.

But the company did offer a series of misleading and incorrect statements purporting to deny the accusations:

-- In its letter, MetroPCS claimed that its service plan allows access to all websites, but not to multimedia streaming services. Yet the plan appears to block some websites (e.g. Vimeo) while allowing some multimedia streaming services (e.g. YouTube).

-- The company also stated that its service plan allows Web access, but it does not address the question of whether other applications or services that would seem to be 'data access' but would not entail 'multimedia streaming' would be permitted.

-- Additionally, MetroPCS said that if video providers other than YouTube want to reach all of its subscribers, the providers can ‘approach’ the company to make arrangements, a relationship that would make its customers’ Internet experience more like cable TV.

“This latest sales pitch is no clearer or more convincing than previous efforts by MetroPCS,” Riley said. “What MetroPCS is doing is clearly discriminatory and unreasonable. MetroPCS asserts that its blocking is justified by engineering distinctions, but this claim is unsubstantiated. The company allows uncompressed YouTube on its LTE network, even as it blocks YouTube's competitors like Netflix. We urge the FCC to demand greater transparency and changes to MetroPCS’s practices to make them friendlier for consumers, competition and innovation.”

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